In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Centrist Dem Rebels Yet to Air Specific Gripes on Obama's Budget

The group will meet formally every two weeks, she said, and "hopefully we'll have an influence on how the budget is shaped." And one suspects that these centrists will have Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) on speed dial, given his front-and-center role in the drafting of the official congressional budget.

Which brings up another question: Did Conrad attend the first meeting of budget-skeptical Dems? He joined their ranks during the stimulus debate, so it's not inconceivable that he would sit in with the group once more.

Late Update: Sen. Claire McCaskill (MO), another member of the centrist group, confirmed that its members have yet to settle on specific elements of the budget that they find objectionable. Asked if Conrad had attended the first meeting, she demurred: "It's a pretty fluid deal right now."

Sen. Ben Nelson (NE), a lead centrist negotiator on the stimulus who appears poised to play the same role on the budget, was a bit more forthcoming. "The amount of the budget is eye-popping," he said, describing Obama's top-line number of $3.55 trillion (a 9.3% spending increase over the previous year) as more of a concern than individual programs.

When I asked Nelson if he could support permitting the Bush tax cuts for upper-income earners to expire on schedule in 2010, as Obama has proposed, Nelson said he could potentially support the $250,000 cap. Indeed, he joined every other Democrat in a test vote on last year's budget that asked senators whether they would support extending all the Bush tax cuts, for both individuals and investors.